29 September 2004

Hartley working

The Girl from Monday, Hal Hartley's first movie since 2002's little-loved No Such Thing won't be done until sometime in 2005, but he's turned impresario, starting the Possible Films Collection, a new distribution company releasing Richard Sylvarnes' 2000 DV feature, The Cloud of Unknowing, today in New York for a week's run of 9pm shows at The Pioneer. Not only is the poster Hartleyesque, there's large type at the top that brands madly: "Hal Hartley's Possible Films Presents." The site doesn't mention that Miho Nikaido, the star of this "modern ghost story," is Hartley's wife.

28 September 2004

Robert Altman, 80 in February...

...yet he's making movies like The Company, television series like Tanner on Tanner, he and Garry Trudeau's Sundance Channel update of Tanner '88, and still finds time to stick to his ornery guns: "With the first series, I guess I got in as far as I want to get inside the political process... This time round, we were mainly looking at ourselves as filmmakers and looking at our flaws rather than someone else's."

The ultimate senior auteur

Strangest thing, being in a bar and glancing up at the TV tuned to ESPN and there's a making-of featurette and I see this dour 65-ish guy in an ascot, beagle-eyed behind enormous tortoiseshell glasses, and I think, holy heck, what is Peter "Who The Hell Made It?" Bogdanovich doing on ESPN? Turns out he directed Hustle, the Pete Rose biopic, starring Tom Sizemore under a Moe Howard wig. James Wolcott did the work so we don't have to, even paraphrasing Office Space: "Keeping alive an abandoned tradition, Peter Bogdanovich is the last director in Hollywood to sport an ascot. On him it doesn't look jaunty. His wunderkind years as the director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon are so far in the past that any touch of flair on him looks a little wilted now, though one appreciates the effort. But if Bogdanovich is no longer the cocky neotraditionalist he was in his prime--the ultimate junior auteur--he's still capable of doing solid, unpretentious, almost anonymous craftwork behind the camera, and his take on the Pete Rose saga... was a fascinating portrait of a life that needed the constant pump of stimulation."

27 September 2004

Wong turn

It's the day before Wong Kar-wai's 2046 debuts in China, and Time Asia gives it the cover treatment as well as featuring a Q&A with the estimable director. After 5 years of start-stop-start production, Wong's still chasing the tiger's tail: We love what we can't have, and we can't have what we love.


After seeing David Gordon Green's Undertow, I want to embrace the bright falling late afternoon Chicago light and walk north on Michigan Avenue toward the 66. But I decide to pause at the Mac Store and clear up the rest of the day's business on one of the 14 dedicated-internet iMacs on the second floor. I'm expecting to run into a recently unemployed friend who's been making the place his own drop-by office, but he's elsewhere. The place smells of freshly printed brochures. The security guard is smirking. A Peter Dinklage lookalike, down to the scruffy beard, with blonde accents in his hair, has his eyes pressed right up to one monitor, checking MSN Espanol; three very young faces are clustered around another, murmuring in German and someone's talking in Russian on a cellphone. Even with summer going, going, gone, European tourists taking advantage of the weak dollar also know where to find free stuff.

Wake Up, Writer!

A good, brief interview with novelist Jonathan Ames, promoting his latest, Wake Up, Sir! is up at The Modernist: I went out to Lake Michigan just now, and that was kinda cool, but there did seem to be a fair amount of garbage washed up along the edge, so I just put my feet in. I kind of thought of swimming in there because on this little book tour I’ve swam in the Pacific, I swam in Puget Sound, so I go "Oh, I’ll swim in Lake Michigan,” but then I’m like, “Well, what’s the point of doing all these things just so you can do them?” But I put my feet in.

26 September 2004

In the mood for Wong

The Sunday New York TImes Magazine takes a look at the working methods behind the long-in-the-making, long-awaited 2046, the new dream by Hong Kong directing great Wong Kar-wai (registration required). A quote from cinematographer Christopher Doyle's writing: The way the film looks is its reality... 'Based on a true story' is such a lie. 'Based on a true color' or 'based on a strange dream' is what films cry out to be.

The sign of Leo's

Several months ago, I wrote a long story about a Wicker Park landmark, Leo's Lunchroom, a bittersweet piece about the owner of 15 years getting out of the business. Partly because of a cover headline and pull quote inside the paper (which I did not select), the article caused an unexpected amount of grief, with a bunch of readers presuming that the place was going out of business.

A few days after it was published, an employee told me in an exasperated voice how he'd had to chalk these words on the specials board: LEO'S IS NOT GOING OUT OF BUSINESS!! The deal closed later than expected, and after walking past the place last night, it seems that the new owners have problems of their own. Coincidentally, the board chalker was also walking down Division at the moment I took that picture, and he said, cryptically, "That's whatcha get," and walked on.

Songs that floated in a luminous haze

Bob Dylan's memoir, Chronicles, is excerpted in Newsweek. "I really was never any more than what I was—a folk musician who gazed into the gray mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze. Now it had blown up in my face and was hanging over me. I wasn't a preacher performing miracles. It would have driven anybody mad."

25 September 2004

One woman's vote for facial hair

"Let’s face it: men with beards are what I think about when I’m not wearing underwear."

American serendipity

There's an amusing confessional about city serendipity on Annie Tomlin's always-entertaining online thingum (I'll call it that, since she headlines her page "annie is not little orphan, and this is not a 'blog'"). The anecdote's built around a song that was stuck in her head this week, "Never Meant," by American Football (aka Mike Kinsella). Meaningfully meaningless, it was guitaring around in my head, too.

It's a hit

The new Rilo Kiley album is catchy stuff: a lo-fi copy of the lovely yet angry "It's a Hit" streams on the front page of their site.

Writing on the wall

I really, really, want, want, want, want this to be the name of a band.

24 September 2004

More bestest

Another flavored entry from Newcity's 2004 Best of Chicago issue:

Rainbo Club
A plain, squat box of a room that provides a view of every patron from any point you might stand, the Rainbo Club has acquired decades of legend and lore that ranges from Nelson Algren with Simone de Beauvoir to John Cusack and Uma Thurman, alongside the night-in, night-out workings of the lightly lettered, the paint-pattered, the freshly cute and mid-schooled. But like Francis Bacon’s longtime London haunt, the Colony Room, it is a space that grows with what (or who) you bring to it. A reputation for aloofness and disdain and insularity merely masks its true purpose: a dozen bars at once, where business is done, postures are poked, numbers are taken, sex of surprising variety is exacted. Everybody’s trade.

Collateral frottage

A Reader pointed me toward a reviewer reviewing three reviews of Michael Mann's Collateral, including my review/interview with Mann and commentary on Mann and cities on Chicago's NPR affiliate, WBEZ. The mind foggles.

I read the news 343 years ago today, oh boy

From the ongoing diary of Samuel Pepys.

The Sun-Times reviews Frozen in Light

A notice on the group photo show, a positive one from the Chicago Sun-Times. Freelancer Margaret Hawkins ends by writing: "The nice thing about this show is that there is no point we have to get, no single tricky theme we are meant to tease out of some complicated or obscure artist's metaphor... It reminds us of how we all live two lives, in a sense, one private and one communal. It suggests the noisy simultaneous life going on around and among us, the life of a population and a landscape rather than a single... viewpoint. It reminds us of how diverse and vibrant and depraved and full of grace and problems all our lives are, whether we notice it or not."

23 September 2004

From my window

I live below a flight path.

Billy Goat Tavern

Time to spare after a press screening in the Loop and before an early evening presentation to potential buyers at Zolla-Lieberman Gallery in River North, where some of my work is in a group photo show. So I'm trying to figure what food's fast but good. I consider my options on the walk across the Michigan Avenue bridge over the River, resisting my first impulse, the Billy Goat Tavern. But I give in, not caring to be imaginative and I'm glad I wasn't. Yum: good, old-fashioned cheeseburger that I pile high with thick-sliced dill pickles, with even more slices on the side, the savor of a good hamburger dill, but still tasting of cucumber and with some of the barrel tang you'd expect from a dill bought on Delancey Street.

Enduring Love

The first four minutes of the adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel of the same name are a grabber. (You have to have iTunes installed in order to view the clip.) The general release seems to have been pushed back to November.

Old hands on deck

Press launch party on Wednesday night for the Chicago International Film Festival's 40th anniversary, I make a jokey non sequitur while saying hello to festival founder Michael Kutza and veteran publicist/producer's rep John Iltis, "Which is it? Do you owe John $20 or does Michael owe you $20?"

And a photo op is born.

22 September 2004

Richard Kern & The Modernist

Just got around to checking Richard Kern's contribution to The Modernist's ongoing series of pictorials, "Furniture and Naked People."

Nice Eames furniture. (Registration required.)

Chicago Antisocial

The first installment of Liz Armstrong's print-only column, Chicago Antisocial, roars into the redesigned Chicago Reader with a profile of the publisher of Vice magazine during a Chicago visit last weekend. "Earlier that evening an attractive young Asian lady had caught his eye," Armstrong writes. "She noticed, and struck up a little tete-a-tete with him. McInnes told me, 'I wanted to f--- the shit out of [her] until she starting talking'... But though it's full of newfangled fashions and up-and-coming artists, Vice is actually about complacency. Hey, the magazine seems to say, we're not all the same, and we never will be—so how 'bout we crack some dirty jokes and f---?"

Liz Phair walks into a bar…

A favorite among the couple hundred unsigned entries in Newcity's 2004 Best of Chicago:


Liz Phair walks into a bar…
It’s about three minutes long: Liz Phair walks into a bar, nods to the knowing boy bartender for a drink, pulls out a sketchpad and starts to make a pert little charcoal doodle of him, and all the while, the Doors’ cover of Brecht and Weill’s “Alabama Song” plays: Show me the way to the next whiskey bar, or surely we must die, or surely we must die, the Lizard King intones, Show me the way to the next little dollar. A flash goes off: Liz looks up, sees a second flash as a couple tussle across the room in an old-fashioned photo booth. She wipes her palm across the sketch as the drink arrives. Bartender pats the bar, grins, the drink's on him. She smiles back, begins to write furiously: I bet you fall in bed too easily with the beautiful girls who are shyly brave and you sell yourself as a man to save but all the money in the world is not enough…

Small Bar Wicker Park

Notes on a new neighborhood space, from last week's Newcity.

With dwindling numbers of licenses and the preordained disappearance of old-style twentieth-century Chicago taverns, there's a new niche for latter-day neighborhood hangs: the nouveau dive. Extending their Logan Square franchise southwards, there's a contender on the Near West side: Small Bar Wicker Park. Building out the Division Street storefront that most recently housed Ohba (and before that, Rambutan), proprietors and longtime friends Troy and Ty Fujimura, Jesse Roberts and Phil McFarland have crafted a clean-lined but wood-dark room, with lighting and bits of decor salvaged from Masonic lodges, schools and churches. There are fifteen beers on tap, including Bass, Stella, Bell's, Guinness and, from this region's own Two Brothers, French country ale drawn from "Domaine DuPage." (It's a tasty amber, not too sweet.) .... Saturday's special is small beers for a small bar, domestic shorties, grenades, or ponies; whatever you might call them, seven-ouncers including Hi Life, MGD, Rolling Rock and Budweiser...

Small Bar Wicker Park, 2049 West Division, Chicago (773)772-2727

Obento & more

After weeding through minefields of Brazilian teenagers at fotolog.net, I'm starved for pages fixated on food, like Minmin's fotolog with your daily dose of tidy bento box and the group fotolog +++ LOVE Ramen! +++.

One of the site's founders studiously snaps his meals before tucking in.

Chicago International Film Festival Press Launch

Last night's view into the Loop from the 36th floor of Hotel 71, during the Chicago International Film Festival's 40th anniversary press preview.

12 September 2004

Best of Chicago 2004

Best personal encounter with a celebrity
Jerry Springer

The sun shines bright on Michigan Avenue, but it always even brighter when the most unlikely of gladhanders is casually pounding the pavement, getting the cheeriest greetings and giving them in turn by well-wishers left and right. No Cusack, no Corgan: is that Jerry Springer, rouser of the rabble, in the nice business suit, the politico’s winning smile? Indeed. He’s such a likable presence when you catch him on city streets, and seems so liked by everyone who “Hey!!”s and “Halloo!!!”s, you almost have trouble imagining anyone remembers what he does for a living.

Best film with a Chicago scene in the last year or so
The Company

Robert Altman’s first dalliance with digital video is more post-documentary morsel of implication than a true drama, but it’s filled with rich, offhand glimpses of Chicago. The most emphatic would be the dance numbers in Grant Park with the skyline gleaming against the night. But while Altman’s inarticulate characters say hardly a thing, the city is a powerful presence, starting with the North Wabash where the production prepped and shot much of the movie, including the not-Joffrey Ballet dance studio and third-story glimpses of the El in the background of Neve Campbell’s character’s apartment. Then there are the understated appearances of Neo, Marché, and an Old Town tavern where Campbell and beau-to-be James Franco flirt with looks and posture across the bar, a pool table, an old-fashioned phone booth, all to Elvis Costello singing “My Funny Valentine.”

Best Movie Theater to see blockbusters
AMC River East 21

The big screens of yore are a fading memory, and now cinema’s definitely a “medium”—at least in the scale of the screens where you can watch the brightest and biggest and loudest of movies. Fifty years ago, a movie theater like the Century would take up half a city block, instead of merely two new floors atop the shell of a wedding cake façade. Two years ago, “new build” megaplexes were planned across the city and suburbs before the financing fell through, so downtown Chicago’s got but one big, shiny pleasure dome. Many of the amenities may be duplicated in the ‘burbs, but the proximity to downtown, river North and all the bus lines running to Navy Pier are one more plus to the stadium seated, sonically crisp surround sound, generally bright projection that mark a movie at River East 21.
22 E Illinois St (312) 596-0333

Best place to drink tequila
Salud Tequila Lounge

The best place to drink tequila is on a deserted, white sand beach along the Gulf of Mexico at sunniest sunset, but closer to home, Wicker Park’s Salud eases the pain. The owners of Cans (and the late Big Wig) took over the Holiday Club space, gave it a sleek, appropriately smoky, below the border, below-the-belt décor. For non-tipplers of tequila, there’s a full bar, but the fifty or so specialty tequilas are the attraction, dividing into "Blancos," unaged clear tequila bottled after distillation; mellow "Reposados," aged in wood tanks or barrels for up to a year; and aged "Anejos" are matched by an imposing selection of "reserves de casa," with a range of cognac-like entries that bite the palate and the wallet. Signature items like Roasted Pork Tenderloin are designed to complement the tequila savor.
1471 N. Milwaukee Av., (773)276-7582

Best new restaurant (opened in the last year or so)

Moving across the alley, the partners of Blackbird, including James Beard Award-winning Paul Kahan, partnered with chef Koren Grieveson, to turn a 1,500 square foot storefront into a 49-seat wine bar that finally makes small dishes the new big thing. Intense flavors of an elevated minimalism, drawn with shrewd discernment from across the Mediterranean, are to be savored daily, including palate-tingling handcrafted salamis. An immense woodburning stove from Australia isn’t the hottest thing: it’s the crowds from dusk to 2am, shoulder-to-shoulder to share the gustatory delights and serendipitous camaraderie.
615 W. Randolph, (312) 377-2002

Best ice cream shop
Margie’s Candies

Hurry up, order a Turtle! Gimme some hazelnut truffles! Quick! Grab that booth. Wasn’t it all this way in the days before we were born? Endless summers and root beer floats and the sugarlicious half-gallon monsterific World’s Largest Sundae? Shakes to literally take your breath and hand dipped candy and amazing marzipan and chocolate sauce and eighteen percent butterfat superflavors? (There’s a rumor than one page of the menu has actual food on it.) A Bucktown mainstay since 1921, legend holds that this third-generation family-owned institution has hosted everyone from Al Capone to the Beatles to Liz Phair. Margie’s motto: "Highest quality, best possible service, and be proud of your product." The hot red-orange script of the Margie’s neon is one more old-fashioned, even anachronistic, element to savor.
1960 N. Western Ave, Chicago, (773) 384-1035

Best place to buy denim
US # 1

Felix Unger-neat, this Milwaukee Avenue storefront with the blah façade holds a mini-museum of skinny hipster-guy clothing, mostly from the 1960s-1970s; along with all kinds of gaudy shirts you wouldn’t be caught wearing tucked in, there’s a wall of jeans from faded to black to blue to bell bottoms and flares and boot cuts and back in. (Plus the boots to wear them in.)
1509 N. Milwaukee 773.489.9428

Best place to buy foreign magazines
Europa Books

Feeling stateless on State? Europa Books embraces more than a couple of lingua francas in their inconspicuous storefront, with foreign dailies in several tongues and an emphasis on Latin American language as well as titles in French, German and some Italian and Portuguese. (How many languages do you want your Harry Potter paperbacks in?) From Hello! to a variety of Vogues, Europa is as packed as a Southwest jet with fashion, fashionista, food, music, movie and soccer periodicals to bring your niche of the world closer.
832 N. State, Chicago, (312) 335-9677

Best brunch place

Low-key and uncluttered, Flo is an oasis of calm on a busy thoroughfare. The Southwestern taste-of-New Mexico menu is a treat day and night, but breakfast and brunch at a decent price in the emerging neighborhood are the best. There’s huevos rancheros, a red chile enchilada, a tasty chorizo scramble, and breakfast tacos are a treat: corn tortillas grilled with cheddar, stuffed with portabello and scrambled eggs with puddles of red chile and a pile of black beans. The egg sandwich—scrambled with roasted red papers, spinach and basil mayo on brioche is tangy, too. Add to the savories the out-of-place charm of the room with its understated folk art and the charmed diners and Flo is a place to savor. Specials change every couple of weeks and there are a variety of mimosas and sangria.
1434 W. Chicago (312) 243-0477

Best restaurant
Green Zebra

Shawn McClain’s sprung from the mostly seafood menu at Spring (with partners Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky and Peter Drohomyrecky) and foodies are flocking from around the nation as well as the gentrified West Side: a vegetarian menu, largely made up of small plates, that even the most inveterate meat-eater can enjoy the taste of? What have you done right to get almost 1,400 words—“enough… true winners [to make it] far more than a curious and noble experiment”-- in the New York Times and in the International Herald tribune, covering most of a broadsheet of newsprint? Named after a variety of heirloom tomato, the chartreuse room, seating bout 50, is sedate and soothing in a familiar Chicago kind of underminimalism. But it’s the thirty or so items on the menu on any given visit that wow, including inventive salads, a rich polenta and an avocado panna cotta, tomato gelee and crème fraiche concoction won’t be forgotten. One chicken and one fish dish is on offer each day, and butter is not a no-no.
1460 W Chicago, (312) 243-7100

Best thing about the Daley-Tribune feud
Important issues continue to be ignored

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” “The Mayor is pissed!” “The multibillion-dollar conglomerate is pissed!” There’s a silent slapstick move that’s been described as the “spread-eagle and scram”: get caught at something, jump in the air while making a big face and run like hell. Questions about crime, health, education, the concentration of media power in the hands of an immense corporation, the concentration of civic power in a politician who will not let go? “No, he did it!” “No, they did it!” Whimper, whimper, whine, c’mon, kids, let’s put on a show.

Best male radio voice
Ira Glass

Among dozens of id-i-o-syn-cratic radio voices from the world of guys in Chicago radio history we could pull out the still-hill-and-valleying antediluvian wavy-haired inflections of 86-year-old social troglodyte Paul Harvey (“Paul Har-veee NEWS.”); the unforgettable gravel of the recently passed Lu Palmer; the smooth-hip of 1970s-era John “Records” Landecker on “50,000-watt clear channel” WLS. Try as you might to think, um, of, well, another STORYTELLER who’s put his im, um, imprint on the inner ear of a generation or radio listeners passing on into their own comfy middle ages, we could, could, could do worse than attempt to mimic the rhythms of our very own, this Chicago’s Ira Glass. Love, lust, hate, deny: he’s still there at the end of the Pier, encouraging a new generations of storytellers to only, only hesitate when editing their digital sound files.

Best restaurant to go off the Atkins diet
Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap

There’s no need for excuses to pile on Italian cuisine family style, but if it’s a swift solid return to rational eating, you’re kicking for after getting all stringbeany and feeling munchy on Atkins, west Little Italy’s unadorned home of the piled-on pasta chosen from a wall-sized chalkboard would be our warm-and-friendly favorite after you’ve thrown down that set of body fat calipers. Weekends, the authentic southern Italian delights include splendid ravioli and cavatelli.
1073 West Vernon Park Place (312) 733-3393